By: Dr. Robert J. Landy
May 08, 2014
The Centers for Disease Control have declared May as “Skin Cancer Awareness Month” and the New York State Podiatric Medical Association (NYSPMA), which represents more than 1,200 specialists across the Empire State, is urging New Yorkers to pay special attention to the skin on both the top and bottom of their feet. Skin cancers of the feet are more often related to viruses, while harmful sunrays may be the primary cause of skin cancers on parts of the body that receive sun exposure. Doctors of Podiatric Medicine (DPMs) are foot specialists, trained to recognize and treat conditions that present on the skin of the foot.
Oftentimes, skin on the feet, especially on the bottom, is overlooked during routine medical exams. Many times there’s a history of recurrent cracking, itching, bleeding or ulceration. These lesions can also be painless and may go undiagnosed until another issue presents itself near the affected site.
Checking for warning signs is something anyone can do, paying particular attention to changes such as non-healing sores, bumps that crack and bleed, nodules with rolled edges or scaly areas. Examining the bottom of the foot is critical.
Basal cell cancers may appear as pearly white bumps or oozy patches that can get crusty like other open sores. On the foot, basal cell cancers often look like non-cancerous skin tumors or benign ulcers.
Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer of the foot. They usually are confined to the skin and do not spread. However, when advanced, some can become more aggressive and spread throughout the body. This form of cancer can begin as a small scaly bump, which may appear inflamed. There can be cracking or bleeding. Sometimes it begins as a hard projecting, callous-like lesion. While painless, this type of skin cancer may be itchy. It can resemble a plantar wart, a fungal infection, eczema, an ulcer or other common dermatological conditions.
Skin cancers on the lower extremity may have a different appearance that those arising on the rest of the body. So to test, the podiatrist will perform a skin biopsy. This is a simple procedure in which a small sample of the skin is obtained and sent to a lab where a skin pathologist examines the tissue in greater detail. If it turns out the lesion is skin cancer, the podiatrist will recommend the best course of treatment.
Each year, approximately 2 million Americans are diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancers. Early detection and treatment of skin cancers often lead to a better prognosis. If you have a non-healing wound or a skin lesion that has grown in size or shape, has changed color, or has become more painful, see your podiatrist for an evaluation and/or a skin biopsy.